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According to some people, we live in lurid times. The superbly pompous BBC World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, has compared the coalition government's freeze on the licence fee with "waterboarding". He wrote: "As our head is pulled out of the bath, we'll be so desperate that we can't be certain what compromises and deals we might be tempted to make. We will be at the government's mercy."  

Worse was to come. The Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, trembled as he told a clerical conference: "I'm about to use an analogy and I use it quite deliberately and carefully. And it slightly frightens me to use it but I do think it's where we're at. I feel very much increasingly that we're in January 1939." No, you haven't missed a gathering storm of war. The bishop was referring to the prospect of women becoming bishops in the Church of England. 

Historical analogies figured prominently among kneejerk responses to the coalition's cuts in the subsidy taxpayers make to people with large families renting big houses in upscale urban areas. The crassest intervention came from Polly Toynbee (she subsequently apologised) who claimed this was a "final solution" to the problem of the inner-city poor. Never one to miss the publicity which comes from sticking his foot in his mouth, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, added that this proposed policy was akin to the Serbs' "Kosovo-style cleansing" of Muslims. It may be that Johnson speaks without input from his brain or that his brain — a second class degree in Greats at Oxford hardly makes you Plato — amounts to less than his admirers tell us. He could also be pitching for the inner-city ethnic vote in 2012. 

What the government is proposing is to cap housing benefits at £400 a week, which may mean that an estimated 17,000 people, including some who receive outrageous sums of money to live in Notting Hill or Swiss Cottage, may have to move to Lewisham or Deptford. Lord help us, they might have to get on a bus or train to go to work, like others who commute daily to London from as far away as Bristol in conditions which resemble a "legion of the damned".

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